A Roman Wedding


[Since this wedding was so unusual, we thought it might be helpful to print up programs so that our guests knew what we were doing and why.]

Program cover
An ancient Roman wedding scene.


CELEBRATOR (Officiant): Cheri Scotch

AUSPEX (Reader of the Omens): Jenni Hunt

PRONUBA (Matron of Honor): Patricia M. Arant

BRIDE'S ATTENDANTS: Helen Black, Julie Brooks, Lynn Catterson, Kathy Jungjohann, Regina Schaare-Denio

BEST MAN: Timothy Bradford

MUSICIANS: The DisSonatas

BRIDE'S ATTIRE: Theresa Dyer

GROOM'S ATTIRE: Cheri Scotch

Grateful acknowledgement is made to Daniele Liotta and Carla Tassi of Italy, whose wedding ritual was helpful in the creation of our ceremony, and to G. Iulius of Michigan and Q. Fabius of California for obtaining and translating it.

Order of Events

It was customary for Roman couples to ask one or more male friends to perform this duty. Any adult male could do it, though for the Confarreatio rite being re-created here, it was probably performed by the Flamen Dialis, one of the chief priests of Rome, whose marriage was considered sacred to the city. In ancient times, the reading of the omens was done by examining the entrails of a sacrificed animal. Omens could also be read by augury (watching the skies) or by breaking an egg into a bowl.

The Celebrator will invoke Iuppiter Feretrius, god of contracts, and Iuno Pronuba, goddess of marriage, to bless the couple.

Conubium meant the couple had the legal right to marry. In an ancient Roman ceremony, this would have been established by the father of the bride and either the bridegroom or his father, before the

engagement was contracted.

Evil spirits are ordered away from the couple.

The spirits native to this place are asked to lend their blessing.

The goddess of the household is asked to lend her blessing.

The spirit of the sacred fire is invoked to bless the couple.

Ianus, the two-faced god of doorways and gateways, was invoked for new beginnings or for passing from one place to another. He is invoked here to bless Patricia and William's passage from single persons to a married couple.

The binding of the hands is a wedding rite practiced in many cultures ancient and modern. In the Roman rite, it is performed by the matron of honor, representing Iuno Pronuba, the goddess of marriage. The couple then shares the sacred wheat (far) to seal their bond. In Roman times, this confarreatio was a form of marriage practiced only by the priestly class (patricians). While ordinary Roman marriages were relatively easy to dissolve, a confarreatio marriage was made in the eyes of the gods as well as the law, and could not be undone without complex religious rites.

The god of the grain receives an offering of thanks. While animal sacrifice was common in the Roman world, it was perfectly appropriate to honor a god or goddess with a sacrifice of wine, incense or (as the Celebrator does today) grain.

The double-ring ceremony was unknown to the Romans, but it was traditional for the Roman bridegroom to give his sponsa (fiancée) a gold ring at the time of their engagement. The Romans loved to wear rings, and many rings from the Roman era still exist. On her right hand, the bride wears a silver ring from Roman Gaul, circa 150. She also wears bronze earrings from about the same time and place.


Roman priests were very concerned about doing things right so as to please the gods. But they realized that a mistake might slip through unnoticed. So their rituals ended with a formula similar to this one, to ask that the gods forgive any inadvertent errors.


In ancient times, the wedding ceremony would have taken place at the bride's father's house, with a procession afterward to the groom's house (the new home where they would dwell together). This was a public part of the event, and any passerby could join in the procession, though strangers would be expected not to come inside the house. The groom went first, to make all ready, and the bride came last, led by her mother or other female attendants, who carried pine torches. The other participants sang bawdy songs, made obscene jokes, danced and made merry. For today's ceremony, we simply move from one room to the next. Once there, please clear a space around the front altar for the bride and groom to perform their final ceremony, and please make sure any guests with mobility problems are seated first.

Fire and water are essential to domestic life, and in the Roman world a person who was banished from a town was denied fire and water within it. Here, the bridegroom makes the bride welcome by offering her the fire and water of his home.

While Roman couples consummated their marriages in decent privacy, they set up a symbolic marriage-bed in the atrium (public room) of their home on the night of the wedding. The flowers were our idea.

The Lararium was the religious center of the home; here the couple make their first offerings together, to the spirits of the home (Lares and Penates), their ancestors and the goddess Vesta (who ruled the hearth).


What's Roman about this wedding

While we know many of the customs that Romans practiced with regard to weddings, we don't have an actual ancient ceremony to go by. This is a reconstruction including many of the elements of the real thing: taking the omens, binding the couple's hands, eating the sacred wheat, making an offering to the gods, the procession, the lectus genialis and the ceremony of fire and water.

The Celebrator (officiant) and Auspex (taker of the omens) would originally have been male. The confarreatio rite required 10 witnesses, adult men who were not slaves and who were univir, still married to their first wives. The Pronuba (matron of honor) was if possible the bride's mother or some other respected female relative. All the bride's attendants had to be pronuba, married to their first husbands. In choosing the officiants and attendants for this wedding, we have naturally been guided by motives of friendship and respect, and have not inquired too closely into anyone's personal life.

Sons and daughters remained subject to the authority of their father (paterfamilias) as long as he was living. No wedding would have taken place without their consent, and weddings were usually arranged by the fathers rather than the couple themselves. Through binding their children in marriage, men gained political and economic alliances with other families. Nevertheless, the couple themselves had to consent publicly to the marriage for it to be legal.

Roman girls were usually married off as soon as they were able to bear children, usually in their early teens. Roman men often married in their twenties, about the time they started their political careers, but could wait much longer to take a wife.

The bride's and groom's outfits are reasonably authentic. The bride's "flame-colored" veil was meant to imitate the Flaminica Dialis, a priestess whose sacred role was as wife to the Flamen Dialis. There was only one such priestly couple in Rome at any time. The marriage itself was sacred - if she died, he lost the priesthood. Because the Flaminica's marriage could not be dissolved, Roman brides wore her veil as a symbol of their intent to remain married for life.

Originally, the bride would have woven her dress (tunica recta) herself, as proof of her domestic qualities. Even in Roman times, however, girls shirked this duty and the dresses were borrowed or bought. Her sash was traditionally tied in a complicated "Herculean" knot, presumably to provide a challenge for her new husband at the end of the evening.
The bride's hair was parted with a spear point to drive away evil spirits. Since we happened to have a spear point, this was done today as well. The division of the hair into six locks was symbolic of a good wife.

The bridegroom wears the purple-striped toga of a Senator, indicating that he owned at least a million sesterces' worth of property and participated in the political life of Rome. Men were not expected to wear anything special for their weddings, but it was considered impolite to the bride and her family to appear untidy.

It was traditional for the groom to offer food and drink to the guests after the procession. Today's menu isn't entirely Roman, but in its broad outlines is consistent with what a Roman household would have served - fruit, vegetables, bread, desserts. Shellfish was considered a particular delicacy.

It is believed that the custom of wedding cakes dates back to the sharing of wheat cakes during the confarreatio rite. The Romans didn't have chocolate or cream frosting, but we believe they would have enjoyed them if they had!

Frequently asked questions

Q. Why a Roman wedding?

A. The bridegroom has long been interested in Roman history, and has infected his bride with the same interest. We considered not having a wedding at all, but when we decided to have one we wanted it to be fun. This, believe it or not, is our idea of fun.

Q. Are you going on a honeymoon?

A. Yes, on Monday we leave for 10 days among the Roman ruins of Great Britain.

Q. Will the bride change her name?

A. Yes. Legally and socially, she will take her husband's name. For professional purposes she will retain her maiden name.

Q. What about that business of lifting the bride over the threshold?

A. This does date back to a Roman superstition that it was unlucky for a bride to trip over the threshold on her way in. In ancient times, however, it was not the groom but the bride's attendants who lifted her. Patricia has declined to place such a burden on either her friends or her husband, and instead pledges to walk carefully.

Q. Where did you get the idea for a Wedding FAQ?

A. From our friends Christopher and Laurel, who mailed a similar document to their friends and relations when they eloped.

Q. Who are these musicians?

A. The DisSonatas are a medieval/Renaissance music group to which the bride belongs when she
s not busy getting married. They are loosely affiliated with the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Q. Is any of the music Roman?

A. Two pieces, the one played at the beginning of the ceremony ("Doria") and the one played at the beginning of the procession ("Hymn to the Muses"), are reasonably related to something that would have been heard in ancient times. They sound a little odd to modern ears - think of the music you might hear today in a Greek restaurant. The rest of the music is medieval, that being the oldest we could find.

A Little Bit of Latin

Person who takes the auspices, or reads the omens.
An ancient and solemn form of marriage sanctified with wheat.
The legal right to be married. To have conubium a couple had to be past the age of puberty, not closely related to one another and not engaged or married to anyone else. In addition, certain classes of people, such as freed slaves, were legally restricted in their choice of spouses.
Ducere uxorem:
"To lead a wife"; for a man, to marry.
An ancient variety of wheat. At today's ceremony, we use spelt bread to signify far; some scholars suggest that it may actually have been another variety called emmer, which we were unable to obtain.
A man's soul or spirit; that spark of divinity within him.
Ita est:
"So be it." Spoken at the end of religious formulas.
The name of a goddess, but also the word used to indicate a woman's soul or spirit.
A shrine to the household spirits. Roman homes had one close to the front door, where pious Roman men performed daily rites to bring blessings upon their families.
Lectus genialis:
The symbolic marriage-bed upon which the bride's iuno and the bridegroom's genius were supposed to lie together.
Matrona: A married woman.
The male head of a Roman family, who held legal power (patres potestas) over his wife, sons, daughters and grandchildren.
A procession, more specifically a wedding procession.
Matron of honor; if not the bride's mother, then her chief attendant. For this rite, she was considered the representative of Iuno Pronuba, goddess of marriage. The word is also used to refer to a woman still married to her first husband.
An engaged man / woman.
A congratulatory cheer given by friends of a bridal couple.
Ubi ti Gaius, ego Gaia:
A formula spoken by Roman brides. Literally, "Where you are Gaius, I am Gaia." It signified the bride's role of supporting and following her husband. In today's ceremony, an adapted version of the formula is spoken by the couple to one another as a promise of mutual support and a shared life.
A man still married to his first wife.

Home Page
Back to the home page.
A brief overview of Roman wedding customs and the role of marriage in Roman society.
Some ideas and thoughts for reconstructing a Roman wedding.
Links and books for those interested in Roman social history.